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CAMP BARTOW, GREENBRIER RIVER, October 3, 1861.U.S. War Department, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, DC; Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), v. 5, 224-231.
The enemy attacked us at 8 o'clock this morning in considerable force, estimated at 5,000, and with six pieces of artillery of longer range than any we have. After a hot fire of four and a half hours, and heavy attempts to charge our lines, he was repulsed, evidently with considerable loss. We had no cavalry to pursue him on his retreat. The loss on our side has been considerable. A fuller report will be given through the regular channels, but for several days my correspondence with General Loring has been interrupted. The enemy's force was much superior to ours, but we had the advantage in position.
SECRETARY OF WAR.
CAMP BARTOW, GREENBRIER RIVER, October 7, 1861.
COLONEL: In my note of the 3d instant I gave you a brief account of the attack made that day upon our position by the enemy. Advancing along the turnpike with a heavy column, composed of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, numbering, at a safe estimate, from 6,000 to 7,000 men, he drove in our advance pickets at an early hour in the morning. About 7 o'clock he encountered the main body of the advance guard, re-enforced to about 100 strong, and posted on the right side of the turnpike, 1 mile from out lines, by Col. Edward Johnson, of the Twelfth Georgia Regiment, who took command in person. You will find this position designated upon the accompanying map by the capital letter E.
It is but justice to this superior officer and to the gallant band whose movements he directed to say that it would not have been possible for so small a force to have been more skillfully handled, or to have exhibited more obstinate courage in the face of numbers so overwhelming. They held the column of the enemy in check for nearly two hours, pouring into the head of it a galling fire, not withdrawing until six pieces of artillery had opened briskly upon them, and full battalions of infantry were out flanking them on the right, and then retiring in such order and taking such advantage of the ground as to reach our camp with but trifling loss. To this brilliant skirmish, in which Colonel Johnson had his horse killed under him, is doubtless to be ascribed in a measure the exhilarated spirit manifested by out troops during the remainder of the day. Before taking leave of it and referring to former dispatches, I would beg once again to direct to Col. Edward Johnson the special attention of the commanding general, not simply for his peculiarly brilliant service, but for his gallant and efficient conduct throughout the entire engagement. So soon as it had become apparent that the enemy contemplated a systematic attack upon out camp, I disposed of my entire force to meet it ...
As I have already reported to you, our position is not by nature a commanding one. the causes of its weakness are the necessity of defending extended lines on our front (not less than a mile) and on our flanks, and the fact that there are points in our rear which, in possession of an enemy, might give us great trouble. The works essential to our safety were in progress of construction at the time of the attack, but were only partially completed, nothing whatever having been done to strengthen our right flank or our rear.
I am happy to say that during the last three days, through the indefatigable effort of Lieutenant-Colonel Barton, in immediate charge of the works, backed by the cheerful labor of the men, we are already in condition to defy an approach from any quarter. Not doubting that the attack upon us had been to some extent invited by our commencing to fortify ourselves against it, and fearing that the enemy might have been fully advised of our weak points until he had actually begun his retreat, my mind could not dispossess itself of the idea that he had sent another column over the mountains to turn our right flank. To prepare for this danger I held the First Georgia Regiment, so far as that could be done, in reserve for what I apprehended would be a desperate struggle. I also sent express to Colonel Baldwin, whom I had previously ordered to the top of the Alleghany Ridge, directing him to move the Fifty-second Virginia Regiment as rapidly down as possible, and to fall upon the rear of the enemy should he undertake to fall upon ours. That gallant regiment responded, as I have learned, most heartily to the call, and when halted upon the road by the tidings that the day had already been won, despite of its not-to-be-doubted patriotism, could not entirely conceal its chagrin.
The two brigades in this camp, weakened by the absence of the several corps on detached service, the Fifth having been reduced from this cause and from sickness to scarce on-third of its legitimate number, I posted in the following order: The First Georgia Regiment upon our extreme right, under command of Major Thompson, Colonel Ramsey, the field officer of the day, having been cut off from us by the enemy while discharging his duty upon the road; next to it was placed the Twelfth Georgia Regiment-- both of these regiments designed of the immediate command of Colonel Johnson. At an early moment I threw out what few mounted men were available, under Captain Sterrett, of the Churchville Cavalry, to different points along the valley upon our right, for the purpose of bringing us timely notice of an approach by the enemy, and I also strengthened considerable the picket guards advanced in the direction. The center I intrusted to the Fifth Brigade, under command of Colonel Taliaferro, composed of the Forty-forth Virginia Regiment, Colonel Scott; the Twenty-third Virginia Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Taliaferro, and Major Reger's battalion [Twenty-fifth Virginia], commanded in his absence from sickness by senior Captain John C. Higginbotham. This brigade was reduced in the course of the action by a detachment of 100 men, under Major Jones, of the Forth-fourth, to re-enforce our left wing. This detachment marched in gallant style under the enemy's fire to the position assigned it in line. The troops on this wing, which from the character of the ground were widely dispersed, fell under the general command of Colonel Rust, of the Third Arkansas Regiment, and consisted of his own command, the Thirty-first Virginia Volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel Jackson, and the battalion of Lieutenant-Colonel Hansborough, commanded in his absence on account of sickness by senior Capt. J.A. Robertson. Upon this flank also two field pieces had already been placed in battery, enflading the Huntersville road, which runs at right angles, if, indeed, those terms can be applied to serpentine mountain roads, from the turnpike. These guns were under the immediate charge of Capt. P.B. Anderson, and the zeal, skill, and determination of that officer leave no doubt that they would have done great execution had the enemy ventured to call them into action. Captain Shumaker's battery, consisting of four pieces (6-pounders), one of them rifled, and one 6- pounder, under Captain Rice, was held in readiness for the front and right flank. The places occupied by these various corps you will find specified upon the map.
Our forces were all in position, when at about 8 o'clock the enemy opened a heavy fire from six pieces of different caliber, placed in a field upon the right-hand side (to them) of the turnpike road, and bearing upon our front and center. This number was subsequently increased by two other pieces placed on the opposite side of the turnpike, one near it and the other upon the rise of hills. This fire (of round shot, spherical case, shell, and occasionally rapidity and without intermission for upwards of four hours, the eight guns constituting the well-known field batteries of Howe and of Loomis.
The hill occupied by Colonel Taliaferro's brigade, invitingly exposed to all of these batteries, received the greater share of their attention, and but for the protection afforded by the ditch and embankment running along its brow, and constructed under the immediate supervision of Colonel Taliaferro himself, we should doubtless have had inflicted upon us a very severe loss indeed. This fire was returned with great energy and, as the results proved, with signal effect by the guns of Captain Shumaker and Captain Rice and by one piece detached from Captain Anderson's battery and placed upon the hill occupied by Lieutenant-Colonel Jackson. Lieutenant Massie, its proper chief, being quite indisposed, although he maintained his position near his piece, it was under the command of Captain Deshler, aide-de-camp to Colonel Johnson.
From the fact that the rifled gun of Captain Shumaker soon became useless to us (for the cause of this great misfortune see his own report addressed to myself), at no time could we bring more than five pieces into action to return the fire of the enemy's eight. Yet that fire was returned, and that with so much spirit and energy, as to make this artillery duel, rendered peculiarly interesting by the character of the field and its mountain surroundings, ever memorable by those who beheld it. That the casualties among our cannoneers should ever have been so few is the subject of sincere congratulations, and is very much ascribable to the sound judgement of Captain Shumaker, who repeatedly changed the position of his guns when those of the enemy had obtained his range. For a minuter description of the action in this its most striking phase I take great pleasure in referring to the report of that consummately cool and skillful officer. From it you will learn why it was that our pieces, at the close of the four hours' interchange of fire, were temporarily withdrawn, inducing our friends upon our extreme left and evidently the enemy to suppose that they had been silenced.
At about 9.30 a strong column of infantry was seen to move towards our flank. Having crossed the so-called river (in fact, a shallow stream of about 20 yards in width), near the point designated on the map by the capital letter A, it undertook to turn our position in that direction. Soon, however, it encountered a portion of the Third Arkansas Regiment, which drove it precipitately back with a destructive fire. The enemy subsequently turned two of his pieces upon this portion of our left wing, pouring out canister and shell in large volumes, but unfortunately, on account of the projection afforded by the woods, with but little execution. Simultaneously with the movement towards our left another column of infantry ascended the wooded hill before our right wing at the point designated upon the map by the capital letter B.* Having become at its head involved in a slight skirmish with one of our picket guards, it was immediately and strongly re-enforced. Subsequently to the repulse of the column from our left flank it proceeded in the same general direction, ascending the hill at the point designated by the letter C,* and swelling the force, which now began to threaten seriously our front and right, to some 4,000 men. They moved along the side of the hill, opening upon our lines a desultory fire of rifled musketry, which was continued until the close of the action. So soon as the designs of this column were fully developed I ordered the Twelfth Georgia Regiment to take position near the stream, where a small detachment of it, under Lieutenant Dawson, had already been posted, with instructions to engage the enemy whenever he should attempt to cross.
From the fact that this movement was made in full face of largely-superior numbers, armed with a superior weapon, and protected by cover of the forest, it was made with an alacrity and a regularity which deserve high commendation, as does also the cool determination with which this command, protecting itself as best it might against enemy's fire, received it, but returned scarce a shot. Not long thereafter I ordered Captain Shumaker to open upon the same column, directing his fire to where he supposed the head of it be. This he promptly did with two of his pieces, and so effectively, that in a short time the unmistakable evidence of their route became apparent. Distinctly could their officers be heard, with words of mingled command, remonstrance, and entreaty, attempting to rally their battalions into line and to bring them to the charge; but they could not be induced to reform their broken ranks nor to emerge from the cover of the woods in the direction of our fire. Rapidly and in disorder they returned into the turnpike, and soon thereafter the entire force of the enemy--artillery, infantry, and cavalry--retreated in confusion along the road and adjacent fields, leaving behind them at different points numbers of their killed, guns, knapsacks, canteens, &c. Among other trophies taken were a stand of United States colors, which are held subject to the order of the commanding general.
This engagement lasted from 7 in the morning to 2.30 o'clock in the afternoon, at which time the enemy, who had come with artillery to bombard and demoralize us, with infantry to storm our camp, with cavalry to rout and destroy us, and with four days' cooked rations in his haversacks to prosecute a rapid march either toward Staunton or toward Huntersville, was in precipitate retreat back to his Cheat Mountain fastness; and it is certainly a matter not unworthy of mention that while his first insolent advances were received with defiant cheers, running from one end to the other of our line, he was permitted to take his departure under the simple reports of our pieces firing upon him so long as he continued within their range. The relative weakness of our force and the entire absence of cavalry prevented our pursuing him, and thereby realizing the legitimate fruits of our triumph.
His loss in killed and wounded is estimated at from 250 to 300, among them an officer of superior rank. Our own, I am happy to say, was very inconsiderable, not exceeding 50 in all. This most gratifying result is to be attributed in a great degree to the remarkable coolness of regimental and company officers, who never seemed for a moment to lose their presence of mind, never allowed their men unnecessarily to expose themselves, and profited by every advantage of ground and position to shield them from danger.
I conclusion, I take great pride in saying that the bearing of all the troops, both officers and men, with but few exceptions, was highly creditable to themselves and the army. Among those who enjoyed the opportunity coveted by all of attracting special notice, in addition to the name of Colonel Johnson, I would mention those of Captain Shumaker, who was wounded at his battery, and to whom I have already had repeated occasion to refer; of Capt. William H. Rice, of whom Captain Shumaker speaks in the following emphatic language: "He had been working his piece, loading and firing by detail, for an hour in the midst of a storm of shot and shell from the enemy," until he was stricken to the earth severely wounded; of Captain Deshler, who directed a rapid fire with marked effect, and of Sergeant Graves, who fell morally wounded in the cool and gallant discharge of his duty. Peculiarly distinguished among the advance guard, where all were distinguished, must be recorded the names of Lieutenant Gibson, of the Third Arkansas Regiment, the officer in immediate command; of Private Slayton, of the Thirty-first Virginia Regiment, who was severely wounded, and of Private J.W. Brown, of Company F, First Georgia Regiment, who, upon hearing the order to fall back, exclaimed, "I will give them one more shot before I leave," and while ramming down his twenty-ninth cartridge fell dead at his post. Nor can I omit mention in this connection of Lieutenant- Colonel Barton, who, in the absence of engineer staff officers, designed and was in active prosecution of the works to which we are so much indebted for the defense of our position, and who has shown himself at all times prompt to render cheerful and efficient service.
It is hardly necessary to add that Colonel Taliaferro, whose marked coolness and energy could not fail to inspire his men, and Colonel Rust, in command of the left wing, from which the enemy was first repelled, discharged their responsible duty successfully and well. Finally, my own thanks are specially due to my aides, Maj. F.S. Bloom and Lieut. W.D. Humphries, C.S. Army, for the gallant and efficient manner in which they responded to the peculiar and exposing calls made upon them. It is but justice to all that Cadet Henry Jackson, C.S. Army, drew notice to himself by his gallantry under fire.
I have the honor to inclose herewith a list of casualties.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Col. C.L. STEVENSON,
Adjutant General, N.W.A.
* Not indicated in original sketch.
UPDATED: 18 FEBRUARY 1998